WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (WTNH) — Nurses at Windham Community Memorial Hospital began a 48-hour strike Thursday morning after months-long contract negotiations with the hospital over wages, benefits, and overtime policies.
They also held a rally Friday morning with labor leaders and elected officials to “address the failure of Hartford HealthCare’s executives to resolve the dispute and settle protracted contract negotiations,” according to a press release from the Hartford HealthCare Organization of Professional Employees.
“The wages and the health insurance are really the bone of contention, the wages were frozen for six years. The hospital came to us and said they wanted to make it more viable. We sucked it up, frozen wages for six years and then they gave us one percent,” said Karla Beckert, a registered nurse at Windham Community Memorial Hospital. “We love our community hospital, a lot of us have family members here, we have patients here, we take care of our neighbors, our community, our friends.”
The Windham Community Memorial Hospital negotiating team met with bargaining units Monday, and discussions continued through Wednesday, according to a written statement to News 8 from Hartford HealthCare, which owns the hospital.
President Donna Handley from the hospital said she is “disappointed by the union’s decision”, releasing the following statement Thursday morning.
“Nurses represented by AFT Local 5041 at Windham Hospital began a two-day strike at 7 a.m. on Thursday. They say they will return to work at 7 a.m. on Saturday” said Handley. “The hospital has worked hard to prevent nurses from walking out on patients. We are disappointed by the union’s decision. We have continually compromised to find common ground throughout this long negotiating process. We remain hopeful that the parties will be able to reach [an] agreement on a new contract in the near future.”
According to the statement, the groups have been negotiating since December, with 46 official negotiating sessions being held. The hospital said that the union did not match its “movement on significant items.”
In response to demands made Wednesday night that the hospital should “meet in the middle,” the hospital said doing so “ignores the history of the negotiations and the hospital’s numerous concessions on the issues deemed important by the union,” according to the statement.
The hospital said that it has responded to the union’s list of most-important items and that the counteroffer includes eliminating mandatory overtime, making market-based adjustments and larger wage increases to help recruit and retain newer nurses, expanding salary ranges for more experienced nurses, increasing wages for technical and support staff, and add 2% of wages to provide health insurance premium contribution relief.
“The hospital remains willing to consider a counterproposal that works within the economics of our offer,” the statement reads. “We have encouraged the union to make such an offer and we have said we are ready to meet and discuss it.”
With the strike ongoing, Handley wrote that “In the meantime, the hospital continues to operate normally, and our patients will continue to receive the same high-quality care in a safe environment that they have always received at Windham Hospital.”